Slowing enrolments hit training college

ONE of the Clarence Valley's leading training organisations may close unless it can gain more support from local business and the community.

Grafton Community College, based in the old railway engineers' building in South Grafton, has provided a mixture of lifestyle and business courses to the region for the past 35 years.

But its acting manager and board chairman Don Philbrook said the college has fallen on hard times since the election of the Rudd Government at the end of 2007.

Mr Philbrook said the new government's funding guidelines had resulted in the not-for-profit organisation recording a $50,000 loss in 2008.

“The new government will only fund courses with a vocational outcome,” Mr Philbrook said. “And they provide 50 per cent of the funding up front and 50 per cent on completion of the course.

“That means we have 100 per cent of the costs covered by only 50 per cent of the money.

“If students leave a course - because they have found a job - then we don't get any of that second 50 per cent.

“Sometimes we're running courses on 25 per cent of the funding we would have received under the old guidelines.”

He said the situation is further complicated by red tape coming from the Federal Department of Education and Training.

“We will phone them to say we have say 12 students for a course, then the department will call back and say they can supply funding for eight,” Mr Philbrook said.

College staff hope that their institution might benefit from the latest Federal Government stimulus package.

“I haven't seen details of the package,” Mr Philbrook said on Wednesday. “But this government is always talking up education, so we're hoping there's something in it for us.”

On Tuesday night college staff held a crisis meeting to plan a way out of the college's financial woes.

Mr Philbrook said the recovery plan could broadly be put into three categories.

He said initially the college needed cash donations from local people and businesses. These donations could be sponsorships of courses or even individual rooms in the building.

The second stage would be to encourage local businesses to use the college to train staff.

“It would be good for someone, who, say, is driving a forklift at work without their ticket,” Mr Philbrook said.

“They should get their ticket. It improves their career prospects when they're looking to move on or get a promotion.”

The third part of the recovery plan will be to balance the ratio of community versus vocational courses, increase fees by around 10 per cent and look at introducing new revenue streams, such as job placement. The ratio now is 70-30 in favour of community over vocational courses.

“Our target is to boost enrolments from 1400 last year to 2000 this year,” he said.

“We need to build our revenue from fees from 60 per cent to 80 per cent of our turnover to make us viable.”

The college also plans to join the Grafton Chamber of Commerce to help build networks with local business and improve the college's visibility in the community.

Mr Philbrook said the college also needed to deal with an ageing building increasingly in need of repairs.

“Most of the air-conditioning is not working and there are a number of other issues with the building that need addressing,” he said.

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